Yahoo’s mantra these days is openness. To that end, Yahoo may create the ability for users to view their ad profiles — the data that’s being used to target them with advertising on Yahoo and its extended network. Yahoo EVP Jeff Weiner, who spoke at the Economics of Social Media conference in LA yesterday, suggested that he’d like to see such a system in place at Yahoo. As CNET reports, a similar idea was floated but previously quashed at Yahoo. But now the environment in Sunnyvale is more (dare I say it?) open to the idea.
Consumers have consistently reported to researchers that they prefer relevant ads but don’t like the idea of being tracked. This is a contradiction or paradox except in the search context (and to a lesser degree with content targeting), where tracking isn’t required to serve relevant ads.
However, the idea of a central ad profile that users could see, correct, and control (see Google web history) to some degree offers an intriguing way to resolve the consumer conundrum of relevance vs. tracking. The CNET article suggests Yahoo’s forthcoming universal profile might serve as the location for some or all of that activity.
Privacy and targeting policies (at a high level) could be disclosed and users could be given the option to state or provide more detail about their interests for better targeting. The ability to opt-out or turn off enhanced targeting could also be offered (AOL has proposed something similar). My sense is that most people would not opt out, especially if they understood they could at any time and “got” the connection between targeting and relevance.
Regardless, greater transparency and self-regulation are going to have to come to online behavioral targeting before regulators impose rules and conditions that publishers, ad networks, and online marketers don’t want.